As we were finishing our breakfast just after sunrise, we noticed two CDT hikers traveling south bound. They did not see us. We assume it was because they were looking at Guthook (for the spring most likely), and were also probably watching the trail tread in front of them.
We have never been on a trail where so much time is devoted to watching the ground while walking. Not even on the Klondike Goldrush, Chilkoot Trail, deemed the “meanest 33 miles in history”, did we watch our feet as much as we have thus far. Unlike the PCT, there is very little “mindless” walking here. There is no real groove or rhythm to be had. We have come to accept this. It is better to resign yourself to the mantra of, ‘The trail is what the trail is going to be’. ‘Embrace the suck’, we were warned. Frankly you have no choice.
For us though, we have coined the term, “Embrace the Brutifulness”.
I would think that at a little over a month in, that these climbs would get easier, that my lungs and legs would have finally “surrendered” to their daily regiment. Apparently my lungs and legs have a mind of their own. They somehow trick my brain to trigger thirst, hunger, pain and even a meltdown or two. They are conniving and ruthless, and often stop at nothing until they get their way. Thankfully, the eyes however, have been able to temper this rebellious pair. In fact, the eyes have even been able to “motivate” the pair, not only to keep going when they’d rather not, but also to override the brain when it tells them something is “classified” as dangerous, or outside its (the brain’s) comfort zone.
Today, the eyes prevailed.
Flowers. Ridgelines. Clear skies. Being in two states at the same time (Idaho/Montana). A relatively “flat” stretch of trail with expansive views. Yup. The eyes had the legs and lungs doing its bidding, for a change. We spent a good portion of the morning and early afternoon at over 9,000 feet. Once we got to 9,000 feet, the trail followed what appeared to be a once used, and obviously hearty, graded road.
It was wide and based on its current condition, built to last. We passed by the “short” trail to Taylor Mountain.
Had we taken that, we would have discovered remnants of an abandoned ski lift, that was obscured from our view. It appears that Taylor Mountain sported a ski lift as early as the 1940’s, and from what I could find, operated from 1959-72, then 1975-79. It was promoted, along with other “small” Idaho ski areas in a 1970’s Idaho tourism promotion, “Ski the Great Potato”. Taylor Mountain was vandalized in the 70’s (I assume 73/74). Combine that with a few years of less than optimal snowfall, it obviously never recovered. Based on this knowledge, and looking at satellite imagery of the area and area road maps, I believe the portion of the trail we walked on, that appeared to be a graded road, to include the “drivable” switchbacks, was the Taylor Mountain Resort road. If anyone knows better, please let me know.
After the switchbacks, and a few miles after you pass a Targhee National Forest sign, the trail narrows. At one point the trail forks into two CDT routes. The “new” reroute of the CDT as shown on Guthook, but poorly marked, and the previously marked and “old” route. The “new” route seems to have been purposely rerouted to pass by a spring, that one used to have to bushwhack 2/10th of a mile off trail, to access it. With this reroute, it significantly reduces the mostly shade-less 17 mile water carry.
The problem is that the “old” route is still marked with US Forest Service CDT trail marker signs, and is, well, “shorter” and well tread upon, as opposed to the new route. Had we not missed the turnoff to the new route, by a mile, we would have taken the new route. As it was, portions of the “old” route weren’t particularly fun as it was fraught with “Land Mines”. “Land Mines”, for me, are soft portions of soil from recently “filled” holes and/or enormous gopher or badger holes that are obscured from view via tall grass and thick vegetation, that lie directly in the path of the trail. As my luck would have it, I rolled my left ankle in not one, but several of them as we walked “blindly” along, during a hillside traverse. Better that this happened toward the end of the day, rather than its beginning, and that the route’s views were still stunning.
From single track to ATV track, the trail led us across the border from Idaho (once again) into Montana, and across a robust flowing creek, teaming with mosquitos, but icy cold and clear.
Just past the creek, we pulled off the CDT to camp by a lone pine tree in the middle of a lumpy meadow of mules ear plants, surrounded by marauding mosquitos in what felt like super bear territory. Even in the lumpiness, sleep came quickly.
July 26: Mack’s Inn Cut-Off , mile 15-32.1(17.1) – ,2076.2 -2079.5 (3.3) 20.4 miles
Thanks to Issac and Justin at High Mountain Adventures in Island Park (next to the Sawtelle Mountain Resort), who helped us out big time. While the Mack’s Inn Cut-Off is 32.6 miles in total, the next 10 miles for us was to be on the Sawtell Peak Rd, where it the mercifully turns off onto a trail, that supposedly turns into a 3.5 mile bushwhack, that intersects with (NOBO) mile 2076.2 of the CDT. In a text we received from Google the day before, he wrote, “Made it up the road out of town. Hitch it if you can. Extremely busy with idiots on 4 wheelers and the dust is oppressive. Also super long uphill”. We decided to take Google’s advice.
In total, Sawtell Peak Rd is 13 miles and ends at the top of Sawtell Mountain. We originally went into High Mountain Adventure’s, the day before, to ask about Sawtell Peak Rd. We had no idea how far up it went and if/when it became an ATV road. We spoke with Issac who told us that it was gravel road that went up to the top of Sawtell Mountain. “It’s a 3000 ft climb over 12 miles”, he told us, and then asked us if we wanted to rent an ATV to “check out the view”. We told him we would be checking out the view, eventually, but that we were on foot, hiking the CDT. “Doesn’t seem like there are very many of you this year,” was his response. We asked if he thought it would be hard to get a hitch up the road. Issac asked us when we needed a ride. “Tomorrow” was our response. Issac then said that he’s been wanting to “go for a drive”, and offered to take us up the road the following morning.
They morning came, and we met Issac at the appointed time, but their business got slammed, and we had to put it off till after 1pm. 1pm rolled around and we loaded up.
We honestly did NOT expect to be taken the 10 miles all the way to the trailhead.
Down the trail we trotted, after we had drank the extra liter of water we had put in our pack…just in case it was a short ride.
Thus, our 20.4 mile day entailed only 10.4 miles of actual trail walking. 12 miles, if you count the extended bushwhack, wherein we missed (again) our “turn” to begin the “scheduled” bushwhack. To say we overshot it would be an understatement. Short-cuts aren’t always that short, has been proven once again.
During the height of our “scheduled” bushwhack, we came upon a group of ladies on horseback. They we taking a break in the shade and asked us if we were looking for the trail register. Trail register? Yup, on the bushwhack “trail” there is a Mack’s Inn Cut-Off Trail Register, in an ammo box, by a stream bed. Paul signed the register while I battled horse flies (hence no picture). The ladies were on an annual horse pack trip. This time they chose Idaho. They asked us where we were headed. We told them we were hiking the CDT and were headed to Lilian Lake for water. They told us they had just come from there. What? You mean there is an actual trail? They didn’t know if there was a trail, but that after 10 horses walking single file from there, there should be a trail now. Jack Pot! We had certainly lucked out this day. One of the ladies led us to where they had stopped, and from there we followed a nicely trod “trail” most of the way to Lilian Lake, until we had to bushwhack down to where Guthook had us approaching Lilian Lake.
We knew it had gotten just too “easy”. We watered up at Lilian Lake and soon were back on the CDT, proper, at mile 2076.2.
The trail continued to climb, but with actual switchbacks, over and through amazing terrain, with stellar vistas.
We also cross/enter a portion of the US Sheep Experiment Station. It includes close to 28,000 acres, and per wikipedia its mission is “to develop integrated methods for increasing production efficiency of sheep and to simultaneously improve the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems”
With the sun getting lower in the sky, we called the day just past a small spring (mile 2079.5) that took some effort to find a good place to collect its icy cold elixir. Our view, although a bit hazy on the edges, thanks to fires in Northern California, was amazing.
July 24-25 (Mack’s Inn Cut-off: 3.3 – 16.8) 13.5 miles
We awoke to a surprisingly dry interior. With the exception of our food bags having been soaked through, and the dampness of our rainfly, you’d have no clue it had rained with such volume and vigor. Today we would arrive into Island Park Idaho, and hopefully secure a room at Mack’s Inn or cabin at the RV park.
The abandoned logging road upon which the trail continued intersected with an unpaved, but fully maintained and travelled road. Driveways to cabins and summer homes veered off from here. It was hot, flat and monotonous.
We walked mostly down the middle, because we could. Several ATVs and trucks drove past us in the opposite direction. Some slowed to not “dust” us out, while most kicked up and left a lingering cloud of dust for us to choke on. When we reached the 3 mile blacktop paved section into Island Park, we hitched. We had no desire to walk aside such a heavily trafficked roadway. We almost immediately got picked by a nice gentleman in a new truck. We apologized for our dirt and stink. He had just dropped off his family further up the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River for a “float” down into Island Park. At our request, he dropped us at Mack’s Inn.
Once again we were thrust into droves of people, and constant, unending mechanical noise. Neither of which I am a fan. Based upon everyone’s attire, we were obviously over-dressed. Our backpacks didn’t fit in as well. We got quizzical looks and a few looks of disdain, like we were homeless or vagabonds. Which to be truthful, at that moment, we were.
One of the things with being retired is that the need (or desire) to know, or recognize, what day of the week it is, is not that important. Being mindful of the date, or time of day, is also not that crucial to our daily existence. The same could be said for those on a thru-hike, with the exception of collecting one’s resupply from the post office. As we had planned to resupply from the store here, we were completely clueless that we had arrived at Island Park on a busy Friday afternoon…in the middle of summer. Island Park normally has a population just under 300 people, but swells to several thousand once summer hits. With numerous dirt roads to explore and traverse via any assortment of ATVs, the 7,000 acre Island Park Reservoir nearby, and wide and lengthy river(s) to raft and/or fish, this place was awash with recreation. And, unless we wanted to shell out mega bucks for a one night stay at the newly built Springhill Suites, we were out of luck. There was no room at the “inn”. Any of them.
Dismayed, we decided that eating fresh food and drinking cold beer was a viable option. We toddled over the cement bridge spanning the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Cafe Sabor, a Mexican restaurant was calling our name. Al fresco dining on the deck, facing the river, we sipped a beer, while waiting for our food.
We were unexpectantly joined by the “youngsters”: Google, Bear Magnet, Timber and Coins. We thought they were long gone. Google and Bear Magnet had rolled into “town” last night, and were able to rent a cabin and do their laundry at the Yellowstone RV park at Mack’s Inn. Timber and Coins had also rolled in the night previous, and I believe had just finished their laundry. We told them of our predicament. They offered solutions, as to where they stayed, and almost had us convinced to join them back on trail. The problem was that I was on the verge of unrepairable peroneal tendonitis in both feet/lower legs. I did not want it to evolve into Tendonosis. Even if we had to stealth camp, I had to take more than a day off, or our hike would be over.
The Sawtelle Mountain Resort came to our rescue. While they did not have any rooms available, they did have a campsite (#12) for what we considered “dirt cheap”. It also had an electrical outlet in which to charge our electronics. $77.76 w/tax for two nights with laundry facilities and a pool and jacuzzi, and easy walking distance to two restaurants (Connie’s and Island Park Lodge) and Robin’s Roost Grocery Store and gas station, we couldn’t pass this up.
It was nice to be able to set up for more than one night, and to actually lounge upon a thru-hiker’s couch (aka. picnic table). As our seriously rank smelling hiking attire soaked in swirly suds of the Resort’s washing machines (of which they provided us with soap and fabric softener…the coin machines didn’t work), we alternated soaking our bodies in the indoor pool and jacuzzi, immediately next to the laundry room.
Sufficiently clean we headed to Connie’s Restaurant and Saloon for “Prime Rib Night”, a meal we were advised to not miss. Ironically we were not that hungry. In fact, the ravages of “hiker hunger” have not really hit as of yet.
We attribute this to the fact that we are generally making better food choices and have added a daily intake of added vitamins and minerals via Emergen-C packets, and for me 99mg capsule of potassium and 400mg softgel of magnesium to help with maintaining my heart rhythm.
Connie’s graciously allowed us to split the prime rib meal, and to add extra sides. The prime rib was perfect, and probably the best we have had in a long while. It is a restaurant that we would seriously revisit if ever in the area again.
The next morning we headed over to the Island Park Resort for breakfast and an endless cup of coffee. Then, to Robin’s Roost to complete our resupply to Lima, Montana. An unannounced and hellacious thunderstorm converged on Island Park. We retreated to the comfort of the Sawtelle Resort’s lobby to wait out the downpour. This enabled me to catch up, slightly, on my blog. We watched is awe as it rained. Grateful we had a dry and comfortable place to ride this storm out. It was like sitting behind a waterfall, the rain fell with such volume. This would be a true test of our tent. Over an hour into the constant and heavy rainfall, Paul decided to check on the status of our tent’s interior. Under cover of his Gossamer Gear LiteFlex Umbrella, he scurried to our campsite. So far, so good. Everything was dry. The fly and campsite drainage was working properly. The site’s tree cover was helpful in breaking up the heavy cascade of rain that fell on our tent. For nearly three hours it rained. Rivers of water ran through the campground drainages. During a slight “lull” we hustled over to Connie’s for dinner, and then hit the “hay” for the following morning’s Yogi’d ride up the road, back to the trail. We didn’t know how far up the road our ride would take us, but anything was better than walking the full 10 miles up the busy dusty, waterless road, beside a plethora of ATVs and vehicles on their way to Sawtell Mountain, and the giant “golf ball”, Ashton FAA radar tower on top of it.
July 23: Day 35 (1994.5 – 2000.6 + 3.3 of Mack’s Inn Cut-off) 15.4 miles
The intermittent patter of rain continued throughout the night. The youngsters got up early and headed out way before us. We had the option of zeroing at Summit Lake and giving our feet a rest for a day. However, spending the day in our “skinny jeans” tent under rainy/drizzling skies, hiding from hoards of marauding mosquitos, did NOT seem all that restful.
Under grey skies and through water encrusted vegetation we began our trek. We had chosen to take the 32.6 mile Mack’s Inn cut-off, as the thought of carrying 145.7 miles worth of food between resupplies, on the “official” CDT was just too much for us. For some ridiculous reason, we didn’t think about sending a resupply box to West Yellowstone as a means of reducing the food carry weight. Maybe we’ll do that route next year.
The trail wove through the “outer reaches” of Yellowstone’s boundary. “Islands” of geothermal features smoldered in clusters by the trail. Porous volcanic rocks lined a dormant, bone dry river bed along our path as we continued to the top of the ridgeline where remnants of an obviously replanted and “organized” forest ravaged by fire stood as perimeter sentries. Numerous downed trees lay at our feet. Many we walked around. Others we clambered over.
After breaching a particularly challenging tangle of blow downs (not pictured), requiring the skills of a contortionist (to do it with ease), we met up with a team of obvious Law Enforcement National Park Service Rangers on a trail clearing mission. Additionally “armed” with hand tools for trail work: a cross cut saw (not sure if it was a felling or bucking one), at least one hand chain saw, a single-bit and double-bit ax, a long crowbar and a shovel, they stood like Templar Knights, engaged in a “crusade”, ready for the next “battle”. Each, I assume, carried their “weapon of choice”. They asked about any “foe” we may have faced, and assured us that the path ahead of us was cleared of all lurking trail impediments, within of course, the Yellowstone border. Had they arrived 20 minutes earlier, we would have been spared the acrobatics required for the last tangle of blowdowns.
Better late than never. At least our remaining path could be tread without incursion from our wooded “foe”. If, in fact, we followed the correct trail. But then, this is the CDT and if we don’t get “lost” at least once a day, well then, it’s just not the CDT. More on that later in the post.
Today was pivotal in that while still in Yellowstone, we would exit Wyoming and enter Idaho. Walking the expanse of one state and into another is exhilarating and you can’t help but feel a unique sense of accomplishment.
What is odd though, is that were it not for the rudimentary hiker “monument”, you’d never know or recognize that you had just breached a border. This led to a lengthy conversation and conjecture as to the how and why states borders were even defined/drawn. We wondered what was significant or unique about that state, and what economic, cultural, ecological and geographic factors played into its delineation.
At the West Yellowstone trail junction, rather than paying particular attention to Guthook, and looking at it from the proper direction, we continued down a well worn path littered with “common” thru-hiker shoe prints. Fat, dumb and happy, we continued until the path became thin and then instantly disappeared, 30 minutes into our “bliss”. Perplexed, we wandered about looking for where we went wrong, and a “short-cut” back to the CDT. Yes, we know better about short-cuts, but for some unexplainable reason we still have yet to be dissuaded from them. My friends surmise it’s because we are “eternal optimists”. I’ll go with that. While it would have been infinitely faster and “effortless” to have just retraced our steps, we once again used Guthook and my Earthmate app to bushwhack our way back to the CDT. Ironically, our bushwhack landed us no more than 20 ft from the West Yellowstone trail junction sign.
The CDT eventually, and quietly exited Yellowstone.
Single track tread led onto now abandoned logging roads, being slowly reclaimed by scattered saplings. It made for easy walking, and based on the sun’s angle in the sky, stands of trees that edged into and beside the “road” created a ribbon of shade to escape the growing heat and humidity. We passed the junction where the CDT turns off the logging road back into the evenly spaced forest. We considered briefly, taking the route, but stuck to the plan to take the Mack’s Inn cut-off. At one point we ducked into a cluster of trees to take a break and escape the heat of the sun. A lone, and obvious CDT thru-hiker (evidenced by his pack and pace) was walking briskly past our shaded enclave. Paul called out to him, “rattling” him just a little bit. He was Damien, from Australia. Paul, recognizing the accent and asked him if he was from New Zealand, just to be funny. He had started from Mexico and was doing his best to finish the CDT in 30 days, by hiking 30 miles each day. We asked him, if that was why he was taking the Mack’s Inn cut-off. “Naw mate, I’m headed to West Yellowstone to resupply”. “Well mate”, Paul replied, “you’re going the wrong way. You obviously missed the turn, and walked over the ‘Mack’s Inn’ spelled out with logs in the road with an arrow.” Quickly Damien (who hadn’t seen enough people to acquire a trail name) pulled out his phone and searched his Guthook app. “Oh well, it’s not the first time this has happened.” Phew! So it isn’t just us that gets lost in this trail. A short and pleasant conversation ensued. We asked him how he plans to get to and enter Canada. He had a route planned, and because he holds an Australian/UK passport, he is able to enter Canada, where his sister who lives there will pick him up. We talked about the trail. Its challenges and “constants” like, getting lost, PUDS, inconsistent signage and the value of Guthook. We shared a few quick stories, but in order to get his 30 miles in for the day (as he was “ready” to be done with hiking) off Damien trotted back from whence he came to his proper turn-off.
Our water stop for the day was Latham Spring 250 ft off the CDT. It had an intricate labyrinth of directions to get to the spring. We studied it carefully, so as not to miss our exit to the spring.
As we walked the once maintained Forest Service and logging roads, we noticed they degraded into a purposely spaced series of serious mounds and corresponding ditches. An obvious, but seemingly costly means of discouraging any type of wheeled motor-driven conveyance. We also wondered if it was also a means of slowing snow-mobiles in the winter months. Maybe, by discouraging motor driven vehicles it also “protected” the forest from man-induced fire or degradation. What we later discovered is that they actually Water Bars. They are placed on abandoned logging roads, when a harvest has been completed to minimize erosion and stream sedimentation in that particular tract.
These particularly deep water bars, like the dozen or so we walked around, are used on roads that are intended to be closed for a significant period of time. I assume that it also preserves the integrity of the road against destructive erosion so that when it comes time to harvest the tract again, the roads can be rehabilitated for significantly less cost and time.
When we got to the “exit” to Latham Spring, we followed the “treasure map” direction up over the berm and down a narrow draw to a deeply recessed cistern with icy cold and clear water. Deep green vegetation and richly colored flowers adorned either side of the spring. With delicious water in tow, we headed back to the trail. As we walked I noticed evidence of prior habitation in the form of broken shards of cups and plates (pre WWII) and rotting tin cans. This makes sense so close to a reliable water source.
We had every intention, prior to collecting our water, of walking additional miles.
But, when we returned to the CDT path, we couldn’t help but notice how black the skies above us had become, especially over the direction of which we were headed. Seeing as the trail was as flat as it ever was going to get, we decided to make camp at our “leisure” before it became a scramble.
No sooner than we had finished making camp, the wind began to blow ferociously and the temperature suddenly dropped. It was a sure sign that we were about to be rained upon. Into our tent we ducked, pleased at having read the sky and its timing properly.
Gentle drops began against the fly of our tent, steadily increasing their cadence and vigor. A full fledged deluge ensued, as if someone stood above us with a fire hose. Flashes of lightning, followed by ground shaking booms and rumbles of thunder felt like we had just been thrust into a rave party.
Skittles sized hail pelted our tent, threatening to breach the fly, while others “invaded” the interior having bounced off the ground and under the vestibule doors. This went on for a good 30 minutes.
Our fly showed signs of oversaturation. We were concerned that it was about to “rain” inside as well. Quickly we collected our already unfurled, down sleeping bags and safely tucked them under our rain gear. This was going to be a long night, we concurred. Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. It was eerily quiet. Not a breath of wind. We waited in silence. Paul gingerly unzipped his vestibule door. “Check it out. Not a cloud above us. Total daylight”, as he eased his way out of the tent.
“Phew don’t think I could have lasted any longer”, I told Paul, heading off to pee. I hadn’t had a chance to pee before the deluge had started and the sound of “running water” wasn’t helpful either. Once “business” was completed, we carefully removed our rainfly, shook it “dry”, and refastened it above the tent body. A slight breeze had resumed, and the circle of blue sky above us began slowly to be swallowed up by the ring of ever darkening clouds. Off in the distance, and much further down the trail, the sky was black. We could see curtains of rain falling and hoped the “youngsters” were warm and dry. Round two, for us, was about to begin.
Paul securely hung our food in a “nearby” tree and we retreated to the confines of our “skinny jean” tent, and watched a downloaded Netflix episode of “Stateless” before the sound of rain against our tent was too loud to decipher the voices.
Eventually sleep overtook us, with no expectations of awaking fully dry.
Up early to head into Old Faithful Village (OFV), we heard voices pass our camp while we were finishing our coffee. Turns out it was as we thought “Coins” and “Timber” who we had met in Dubois.
By the time we reached the junction for the Lone Star Geyser, “Google” and “Bear Magnet” (who we also met in Dubois) were just returning from the geyser. They were also now headed into OFV. They told us the girls were ahead of us. Off to “town” we all trotted. The youngsters much faster than us, and more food motivated, quickly disappeared from our view.
We had 5 miles to cover. Dense new growth forest flanked us on either side. With 2 miles or so left, we could see the roof tops to OFV and steam rising from various places in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin below us. Sounds of “civilization” began to increase. I was walking in front of Paul about 10 ft. All of the sudden to my right, and through the trees, I saw a black mass moving. My first thought was, based on the road noises I had heard was, what is a truck doing here? Then I realized that the black mass was a BEAR! I stopped and immediately walked back toward Paul as the bear was entering the trail in front of us. As I was stuttering, (B-b-b – BEAR!), I was also pulling out my bear spray. Then Paul also saw it. “Get your air horn out”, Paul exclaimed. Mine was packed away nicely, as was Paul’s. In fact this morning was the first time he had packed it away in two weeks. Paul began yelling at the bear, who began to run across the trail and into the trees. And then, as we breathed a sigh of relief, the bear doubled back and came back to the trail, stopping at the edge and standing atop a downed log several feet in front of us. He had a huge square head. We both backed up as “calmly” and quickly as we could with bear spray at the ready. Shit! And we were so close to OFV too, we thought. We’ll never get there now if this bear doesn’t move…away. Paul began yelling again, as we continued to back up. Eventually the bear turned and walked into the trees. No need for coffee in town now! We gave it a little time and then continued toward OFV with bear spray at the ready, and the “hey bear” chant till we felt comfortable enough to switch to music playing loudly from our phones’ speakers.
Once into OFV, the post office was our first stop. New shoes were supposed to have been delivered. Paul’s arrived, but I had to wait till 1230 to see if mine would arrive. We also could have sworn that we had sent a resupply package to OFV, but I couldn’t find the receipt from the Rawlins Post Office. As it was, we had to pay to send a box of stuff home (our microspikes and assorted other gear we weren’t using), and to “bounce” our Lima and Leadore resupply packages we had mailed from Pinedale. The Pinedale postmaster had told us to mail it to OFV as we would be longer than 15 days to Lima and certainly Leadore.(Post Offices, especially small ones, will generally not hold packages longer than 15 days without notification and a reasonable pick up date) With the Postal service, unopened packages can be forwarded (“bounced”) at no additional charge to another address. This guy (Jim?) told us otherwise. Apparently the OFV U.S. Post Office does not “bounce” packages. We would have to pay the $21.05 flat rate price AGAIN in order for him to “forward” / mail our resupply packages to Lima and Leadore. The other option would be to get to the West Yellowstone Post Office. He told us that they would do it there, but then he reminded us that there were no buses/shuttles to West Yellowstone (thanks to COVID), so we would have to walk the 30+ miles with 4 boxes. We all knew that was NOT going to happen. What really put our “Spidey senses” on alert was the fact that this particular Post Office ONLY took cash. He also made a point to tell us that he works ALONE at this location, and that it was his boss’s decision to NOT allow the “bouncing” of packages, thus he was only doing what he was told. (BTW, he also told us that his boss was “on vacation” and set to “retire” the following Friday) Seeing as we had NO choice or recourse, we handed over a total of $105.25 in cash** ($21.05, we recognized as “legit”, as that package was going home). Luckily there was an ATM in the Village that we could “buy” some cash from.
**When we got to LIMA we filed a complaint with the Postal Service, as the LIMA postmaster confirmed as we had thought that what was done was “highly irregular” and “not consistent” with all the other post offices in the country. We did note that $21.05 in postage had been slapped on our packages when we picked them up in LIMA. As a note, we were aware that if you “accept” a flat rate package and open it, it nullifies the “bounce clause”. We told the postmaster at OFV, before he even retrieved our packages, that we needed to “bounce” four of them. In any event, hopefully this “irregularity” gets fixed for future CDT hikers needing to “bounce” packages from OFV. We wouldn’t mind a refund as well.
From the Post Office we headed to the store. Now who should we see on the steps of the OFV grocery store, but our hiker trash youngsters, Google, Bear Magnet, Timber and Coins. They had completed their resupply shopping and were “snacking” and watching in amazement, the droves of people scurrying about like ants. It was a little odd to see so many people in one setting, at one time. It was definitely a sensory overload. Prior to going in to shop for our resupply, Google told us the mileage to Mack’s Inn. Three days. Cool! This was going to be an easy and light resupply.
From the market, we all wandered over to the Cafeteria. In previous years, there was an “All You Can Eat” buffet. Not this year, with COVID-19 concerns.
After having masked up, and waiting in line for access to the mostly pre-packaged/wrapped food at the over-priced cafeteria, we dined al fresco as we watched a couple THOUSAND people fill in around the boardwalk to Old Faithful, in anticipation of its “loosely scheduled” eruption. We all joked that there was an old guy, we named “Larry”, that was located in the “boiler room” below Old Faithful sweating profusely waiting his cue to “turn the valve” and entertain the expectant masses. It was a government job and paid good benefits, but the best part was that he didn’t have to interact with the public.
Soon *Old Faithful erupted, as if on cue. More steam Larry! The plume of steam, that can reach upwards to 350 degrees, inched higher to a crescendo ,and then after 3-4 minutes retreated back into its cone. Historically, the geyser erupts with regularity every 60 – 110 minutes (+/- 10 minutes or so). Its plumes reach anywhere from 106-184 feet, and last as short as 1.5 minutes to as long as 5 minutes. We saw it erupt twice before we headed back onto the trail. Over 4 million people visit Yellowstone annually. Based on the crowds we saw, and the gal that rang me up in the grocery store, the visitation hasn’t suffered from COVID-19. She said sales of merchandise and the number of people in the park has topped last years totals already.
*Old Faithful was discovered by the Washburn Expedition in 1870, which led to Yellowstone becoming designated as our first National Park. For a really neat read and collection of old photos and illustrations about Yellowstone (not just the Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is), click here. It’s obvious that a return visit to further explore Yellowstone, beyond the CDT is in order.
One more stop at the OFV post office to see if my shoes came in. Hurrah! They did!
While changing out my shoes, two SOBO CDT hikers, Brave and Gringo, arrived to collect their boxes.
Having just gotten married in March, they were on their “honeymoon”, hiking the CDT. A perfect “marriage test” if there ever was one. We’ve survived several.
After having completed our “chores”, it was time to get back to the trail. Google had provided us with a map through the Geyser Basin that would lead back to the CDT.
Atop a raised boardwalk we wandered through the geothermal features.
Geysers: Hot springs with constrictions in their plumbing, which causes them to periodically erupt to release the pressure that builds up.
Mudpots: Hot springs that are acidic enough to dissolve the surrounding rock, and typically also lack water in their systems.
Travertine terraces: Hot springs that rise up through limestone, dissolve the calcium carbonate, and deposit the calcite that makes the travertine terraces.
Fumaroles: These hot features, also known as steam vents, lack water in their system, and instead constantly release hot steam.
The path led across the road leading into Old Faithful Village. Cars were backed up, and according to a family who had decided to park their car and walk to Old Faithful, the wait in line could be well over 2 hours. They asked us, “How far to Old Faithful?” Two more miles, was our reply…because it was true! We checked Guthook.
Another set of geothermal features flanked either side of this wooden boardwalk. In some ways I think they were “better” than the ones we had just walked through.
When the boardwalk hit the dirt, it was time to climb. Our destination for the night, Summit Lake. It was 4pm and we had 10 miles to go. The youngsters were probably already there. Our only obstacle was the crossing of Little Firehole River. Several logs were available to cross over the fairly narrow (6-10’ft wide) river. Paul crossed with ease using a narrow log across a wide portion of the river. The depth of the river here was about knee deep. Not wanting to get my new kicks wet, just yet, I looked for a narrower portion of the river to cross on top of what I “assumed” to be a sturdy tangle of logs. All was good until the last log/step. With a flash of “you should have just gotten your feet wet” zipping through my head, the log collapsed (actually disintegrated beneath my feet). Like an elevator making an untimely descent, into the water I plunged. Feet first. To my chest. Yes. My chest. Apparently I had picked the deepest part of the river to try my “luck” on a log. Shocked, and glad I had securely zipped my phone into my Gossamer Gear large phone accessory (This is probably the single BEST addition to my backpacking gear EVER!) I was glad the water was tepid, as opposed to ragging hot, as the river’s water soaked through every fiber of my clothing, and of course my new kicks. “Don’t just stand there”, Paul chuckled.
With some effort I climbed out of the river. So much for dry shoes. A light breeze cooled and helped to dry me out as we made our 1,266 ft climb up to Summit Lake.
We arrived just in time for it to rain on us as we set up our tent.
Yesterday we did just shy of 21 miles. Today we cruised into camp (OA3) at 6pm. A whopping 14 miles, unless of course you count the 1/2 mile of going in circles just after we crossed Summit creek.
Being in a National Park means that you have to camp in your assigned/reservered spots. Sometimes that means long miles and sometimes short ones.
We still have yet to have started the morning, or ended the day with dry shoes. This morning was no exception.
Bright and early we left our campsite at Shoshone Lake (S01). The trail turned toward the shoreline that consists of golf ball sized volcanic rock.
Along the shoreline we walked until we reached the lake’s outflow, that morphed into Summit Creek.
After a thigh deep crossing in calm water, we spent the next 40 minutes exploring the “trail to our right and the trail to our left. Neither one showed us anywhere on the redline, that is the CDT. What Guthook and our Garmin inReach showed us, was that we were absolutely “off trail”. The left one definitely did NOT go in the direction we wanted to go. The “right” trail became the final option. We were prepared to bushwack if necessary to get back on trail. Luckily the “right” one eventually fed onto the CDT. As “usual”, we figure we’re not on the CDT unless we get lost or have to backtrack at least once a day.
Today we walked the 10 miles to the north end of Shoshone Lake, the second largest lake in Yellowstone, and possibly the “largest lake in the lower 48 that cannot be reached my motor vehicle”(according to US Fish and Wildlife Service) .
Part of it was in the trees, and part was along the shore.
The trail turned from the lake and entered a vast meadow with tall grass waving in the breeze.
Soon however, under the tall grass, was nothing but soft warm mucky marsh that did it’s best to separate us from our shoes.
My biggest concern was not losing the soles of my shoes as both shoes are ripping from the sides.
After a brief “shoe wash” in a clear stream, the trail entered one of Yellowstone’s geothermal areas.
Steam rose. Water bubbled and overflowed.
Some in orange, and others in sky blue pools. The air smelled of sulfur. As we walked along the delineated trail, our trekking poles now made a hollow sound as they struck the ground. It would just be our luck to strike the ground with one of our poles and have a geyser come shooting out. Fortunately that didn’t happen.
The trail fed back into a forested area and undulated from up to down, with one massive 1300 ft descent. Paul checked twice to make sure we were on the right trail as no way in hell were we going to retrace our steps…this time.
As we continued toward our campsite destination, we stepped aside for three sets of backpackers who were making their way to either Lewis or Shoshone Lake. We checked their shoes. Not wet or muddy. This was a good sign for us.
With mud and debris still floating around our still damp shoes, we took a break 4 miles our from our campsite to thoroughly rinse our shoes and socks.
Three hours later we crossed another marsh, this time atop a boardwalk. It was an easy day filled with variety.
We arrived at our assigned camp. We had it all to ourselves. We bathed in the Firehole Creek that meandered by our site. It was pleasantly on the warm side, and a brisk and sustained breeze kept the bugs at bay. We ate an “early” dinner and then retreated to the safety of our tent while hoards of mosquitos “paced” outside the fine mesh enclosure.
We watched as occasionally they’d poke their bloodthirsty needle noses between the fibers probing for our flesh and blood. Bastards!
Occasionally, at our age, we have to pee in the middle of the night. This gives us an opportunity to take in the night sky, as we are usually asleep even before the sun sets fully. This night in particular we witnessed the most amazing night sky we have ever seen in our lifetime. (I still haven’t figured out how to capture it with my camera on my phone). The night sky was awash with a field of distinct and bright white pixels of light. Stars shined like planets. The Big Dipper was more than big, it was MASSIVE! Stars bled into the horizon. It felt like the “ceiling” had been lowered on the sky. Within the Milky Way, were millions of tiny points of light, as opposed to the muddled swath of white light you can “normally” see in dark sky areas. We wish we had known about the meteor showers or to look for the Neowise comet that was streaking through the sky in early July. We would have sat outside our tent, with purpose, for much longer. As it is, we will now have to wait till 2062 to see the Halley’s comet… provided we’re still alive.
The day started with good tread and rolling incline/decline that allowed us to cover 8 miles by 1030am (which is good for us).
It of course started with an early morning crossing of the Snake River not once, but twice.
The trail would literally take us along the shoreline of Heart Lake.
It’s a beautiful and serene lake. You can see good sized fish swimming and feeding close to shore. A white pelican floated off shore, which seemed out of place to us. Maybe he was on “vacation”, we chuckled.
Heart Lake is massive and sits under the shadow of Sheridan mountain of which we had been inching closer and closer to ever since we entered Yellowstone. Standing 10313 ft.
If you look closely there is building on top of Sheridan mountain. It’s a historic fire watch tower. It was built in 1931 and manned until the early 2000’s. A 2700 ft climb over 3 miles (from Heart Lake), on the Mt. Sheridan trail will get you to the peak that is said to be the “best view” of Yellowstone. We never would have known this if we hadn’t talked to the resident Ranger. After checking our permit, he gave us a “hot tip”. “When you get to the first bridge, go soak your feet. The creek there is around 90 -95°. You’ll really enjoy it.” We took him up on his “tip”.
When we reached the wooden bridge that stretched over Witch Creek we tested the water. It was glorious. Almost as hot as our jacuzzi (103°). It wasn’t in our planned mileage stop, but how could we pass this up. Not only did we soak our feet, but we “cleaned up” a bit. Our shirts, shoes, socks, and even our hair. Two heavily laden, non-CDT thru-hikers passed by with quizzical looks.
Refreshed, we jumped back on trail and promptly started an over 600ft climb.
We passed several geothermal pools in various stages of peculation. Midway up the climb we lamented the fact that we hadn’t filled more of our water bottles. The day was hot and a bit muggy.
From the top of the climb leaving Heart lake you can see several of the geothermal features and the lake.
It a marvelous view, that is locked in time.
I also ran into sage grouse with little ones in tow. Were it not for the little ones, and the fact we had plenty of food, she could have easily become dinner.
Guthook has two water sources listed after the climb up from Heart Lake, neither of them had good reviews. With half a liter left each, we decided to forgo the stagnant mosquito infested pools and see if we could “Yogi” some water from people at the Heart Lake trail head parking lot.
On our way toward the trail head lot we met a man named Fred. Later to be known as “Just Fred”. He would unknowingly, but willingly, be our first on-trail, Trail Angel. As we approached him, and he said “hello”, Paul asked him, “Are you the guy with the beer?”. Fred replied, “No, but I know where two cold beers are hiden. They’re in a cooler in a white van. It’s unlocked. If you want them you can have them”. Now what are the chances of getting that exact response on the sparsely populated CDT?! We said we’d take him up on his offer, if he was serious. He was, and told us that he was only taking an hour walk.
In joyful disbelief we made our way toward the parking lot with a little more “spring” in our step. Two other guys just getting ready to set out for Heart Lake from the parking lot, shared their water with us, giving us a liter for our next 5 miles. Now onto the white van. Thank goodness there was only one. We checked the slider door handle. Yup unlocked. Paul slid the door open, spied a cooler. Yup. Two ice cold Corona beers. Hallelujah! Best beers ever! As we were halfway through our beers and I was writing a note to leave for Fred, he appeared. “We’ll, it looks like you found them”, he said with a smile. “If you don’t mind I’ll join you for a beer”. Wait. What? There were more? Fred poured himself a “warm” one over a cup of ice. We talked trail life and about life in general. We learned that Fred is quite the adventurer at roughly 75 years young.
A widower, he described himself as a “serial entrepreneur”. Until this summer, he has never worked for anyone, but himself. When his camp host spot in Oregon was cancelled, he thought he try working “in the kitchen” at the Yellowstone Lake Lodge. Having been (and still involved) in “organics”, Fred said he “loves to cook”. He showed us his latest garden invention, specially designed for the home gardener. Fred was the light to what was going to be an arduous end of our day. Can’t help but smile, and think of Fred when I drink a Corona beer.
Tonight’s campsite would be by Shoshone Lake. We were supposed to be in “boating” campsite on the lake shore, but a couple had already set up and were having their dinner when we arrived. No point in making them move as there were campsites further from the lake which meant we wouldn’t have to have a “yard sale” mid afternoon to dry everything out from camping next to water.
July 19: 1930.1 – 1944.9 (14.8 + .2 to campsite 8C5 = 15miles)
On the trail by 0730, we were walking our still wet shoes and socks dry. It didn’t really matter, as within the first hour we had 4-5 creek/river crossings, complete with muddy approaches.
Our highlight of the day was to be breaching the border of Yellowstone. When we reached the “demarcation line”, we saw a small 5″X12″ metal engraved sign,
It was a little anticlimactic, to say the least. Now the push was to get to our campsite. We were kind of excited about that. A flat place already prepared for us, by the Snake River, and a readymade bear pole to hang our food bags and “smellables”. What more could we ask for?
We went through varied terrain. Mostly good trail, but it had its boggy parts.
Mostly today was filled with PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs) paralleling the *Snake River.
*The Snake River is fed by Pacific Creek of North Two Ocean Creek origin (yesterday’s post). The Snake River eventually flows into the Columbia River and to the Pacific Ocean.
We had half our mileage before 1130. But, before that, as we were traversing through a forested area, we came upon a hastily shat steaming fresh pile of bear shit.
This was a “fresh” reminder that we ARE in bear country! With that I pressed “play” on my Spotify app, and we “rocked” our way to lunch.
Two people on horseback passed us from the opposite direction, out for an 8 day campout. We thought we packed a lot of stuff!
We crossed the Snake river (again) and began to traverse the eastern slope.
The trail took us high above the river, but still parallel. A fire had obviously ravaged this area.
Dead trees like porcupine quills adorned the hills on both sides of the river.
Swaths of seemingly endless wild flowers painted a canopy of color that made the PUDS more palatable.
Flowered trail turned to wooded, then into a meadow of tall grass before we reached our turn-off to our campsite, 2/10ths of a mile off the CDT.
We reached the sign designating our assigned campsite (8C5) and were immediately dismayed. This was nothing like we imagined. It was lumpy and filled with horse crap. Urgh! After dropping our packs and pouting a bit, we decided to explore a bit more. We followed the trail to the bear pole, and discovered several places we could set up our tent, and still have some room between us and our hanging food.
Today was not what we had envisioned entering Yellowstone. We hadn’t realized that the beginnings of the Snake River originated here, and for some reason we pictured Yellowstone as being flat. All’s we could figure is that our “expectations” were built on years of watching the cartoon with Yogi and Boo-Boo, and our visit in 2012 to West Yellowstone.
Dogged by mosquitos, we ate early and went to bed hours before the sun set. The sounds of geese, chipmunks and the constant buzzing of the damn mosquitos coaxed us to sleep.
As soon as we stepped on the trail, it was obvious that overnight activity had been brisk. Deer, horse, wolf/dog and several bears( large and small) had left their prints in the dusty trail.
This section of the trail is quite popular for human travel as well. Mostly humans on mule or horseback trips as evidenced by the width of the trail and the many lanes etched into the dirt. We were able to spy several white canvas tents set up around the edges of the valley floor.
While most people, even on trail, only see the CDT as a one of the “Triple Crown” long distance hiking trails (PCT, AT, CDT), one can not escape the fact that we walk along, over, and through some significant portions of this country. Geographically, culturally, historically, and environmentally. Today on the CDT, the significance of the Continental Divide wherein geographically, water flows either west to the Pacific or east to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico is demonstrated. It’s like rain water flowing off the top of an A-frame roof. It flows one of two ways, right or left. On the CDT, we would see this phenomenon first hand at Two Ocean Pass and the Parting of the Waters.
To think that water flowing from the Two Ocean Plateau (of which we would ascend to via lengthy switchbacks) into the North Two Ocean Creek would, at random, at the Parting of the Waters, split, and flow in two distinct creeks (Atlantic creek, Pacific Creek) and directions, is amazing.
What is even more amazing, is that if there wasn’t a marker, or you weren’t looking for (or aware of this unique creek), you’d never know of it even though the phenomenon is occuring right before you. You’d probably grouse about having to walk through another icy creek. It made us wonder what other spectacular things were we “missing” or unaware of.
Our switchbacks traversed a steep hillside with stunning views of the valley below, and once again crossed North Two Ocean Creek just below it’s origination from the side of the Two Ocean Plateau.
*The significance of North Two Ocean Creek vs South Two Ocean Creek (that also flows/originates from Two Ocean Plateau) is that the North creek is the only one that actually bifurcates and flows into separate and distinct water basins. Geographically opposite oceans.
Once atop Two Ocean Plateau (10,085 ft.), the wind howled, we had 4G cell reception, and a jaw dropping 360° view of every mountain range we had, or would eventually walk through. We would NOT want to be here during inclimate weather. But today was simply gorgeous.
From the Plateau we descended into another valley where we camped amongst the trees and readied ourselves for the next morning’s entrance into Yellowstone.
As we were packing up, Chimp and Raindance arrived. They started well after us the day prior and ended up camping only 3 miles from us. We weren’t surprised, as they are pretty fast as it is. This is their second time hiking the CDT, and this time they said they were “not in any hurry” as being from the UK, they can’t go home anyways. We watched as they deftly removed their shoes, socks and inserts from their shoes, all while still wearing their tiny little packs. With most river crossings they do this as they find by removing their shoes inserts and socks, their shoes dry faster and their socks stay drier and last longer. Before they crossed, Raindance pulled out a small container that Liz had given them before they left. It was Liz’s special arnica salve. Raindance had graciously offered to deliver it to us. For Raindance to carry something “extra” in her pack is pretty special. We were grateful for both her and Liz’s thoughtfulness. Paul would end up reluctantly using the salve at the end of the day, after having seriously rolled his ankle.
Across the South Fork Buffalo river Chimp and Raindance waded. “It’s fast and strong in the middle, and then gets slower on this side”, they yelled across to us.
Paul crossed first. “It’s pretty strong in the middle. Make sure your footing is secure with each step. Take your time”, were his words of advice and encouragement. Into the river I stepped cautiously. Holy Crap! This water is almost as cold as the snow melt creeks we had to cross in The Winds. The crystal clear icy water washed nearly thigh deep against my staggered legs and firmly set poles. Each step was measured, being sure to maintain three points of contact at all times with the rocky river bed. Of all the river crossings we had done thus far, this one was the swiftest. I can see how someone of smaller stature, or limited water skills would be a bit intimidated. In the back of our mind, we knew toward the end of our day we’d have to cross the North Fork of the Buffalo, and that was said to be more challenging. By the time I made it across, my feet were painfully numb. Gravel coated the inside of my shoes, having been shoved in through the gapping holes in the sides of my shoes. For the next few miles, it would feel like I was walking on stilts before my feet thawed out completely.
The day was expressly warm and dry, so having wet feet initially wasn’t that bad. Compared to our previous week’s trail tread, this tread was glorious. Almost like walking on carpet. It was obvious that a fiercely hot fire had burned through the area we walked, as no new growth could be seen, but an ever expanding meadow was overtaking a previously thick stand of trees.
Vibrant colored flowers accented the meadows and lined our path. One thing for sure, is that the bugs, especially the biting flies were virulent today. Unlike mosquitos that just buzz your ears, these flies like to fly like Kamikaze planes into them. We had sprayed ourselves down with bug spray, but it appeared that the flies had no “respect” for the spray. To keep my sanity, I resorted to wearing my head net. Problem is, is that you have to remember it’s on when you go to take a drink. I dribbled sticky lemonade water down my shirt on numerous occasions.
Some creeks we walked through. Others required log crossings. One particular crossing was too swift to “wade” through, thus my only route across was atop a log, to another log. Logs and I are NOT friends, no matter their height. I can’t seem to stay upon a narrow log laying in the dirt, let alone one suspended over a moving body of water.
This required crossing would take every ounce of courage and determination I could muster, and about 10 minutes (between getting up the nerve and shuffle stepping across both logs), all to Paul’s extreme annoyance.
When we got to the North Fork Buffalo crossing, we came upon Lunar and his crew. Once again, they were traveling in the opposite direction as us. They had started their current leg at Heart Lake. They too had doned head netting, and laughed in understanding as I swatted at a fly that crashed into the side of my head. They told us the crossing wasn’t bad, but the boulders were “super slippery”. They too had heard that several people had lost their footing and got swept down the river a bit.
As it was later in the day, the water at this crossing was comfortable, to point of almost being warm. While the width of the crossing was half the distance of the morning’s crossing, it was just as swift and a little more treacherous and technical, due to the large boulders. The boulders, that were extremely slippery, made it difficult, but NOT impossible, to find secure footing. For those of smaller stature, it would be definitely more challenging.
After lunching on the other side of the river, we continued down the trail and came upon a disconcerting sight. Not only were there large bear prints in the trail, but a tree trunk teaming with bear fur.
An obvious scratching and itching post for a very large bear. Loud talking and awful singing ensued.
This whole week, especially today, was supposed to be “rain-free”. It appears that the meteorologists in these parts are even worse at predicting/reading the weather than those at home. Thusly, we have taken to leaving our rain gear at the top of our packs, and often start the day with pack covers on…just in case.
We however, think we have figured out the rain definition thing. At home, any amount of moisture coming from the sky (unless it’s foggy, or snowing…which is rare) is generally accepted and referred to as rain. Here, for it to be classified as rain, or a weather event, moisture has to fall from the sky for more than an hour…hard. If the moisture is accompanied by thunder and lightning, it’s a simple thunder shower…still NOT rain. Hail, isn’t classified as raining, so it’s just an anomaly, and is more of an event. When the two happen at the same time for a short period of time, it’s just summer, but NOT a weather event, and certainly not recognized as having rained.
Sparse forests opened up into a wide valley flanked by a meandering river teaming with fish. Oh to have the time to fish. Sometimes it’s pure torture. We pass a few perfect campsites, but we haven’t made our mileage just yet. Considering that we ended up having to tamp down tall grass in a mosquito infested meadow with no trees in which to hang our over laden food bags, we should have just set up rather than push that 2 more miles. By this time Paul had seriously over turned his ankle searching for an acceptable campsite. I couldn’t help but think (out loud…unfortunately) had we stopped earlier, that it wouldn’t have happened. So, we were more than a little cranky when we went to bed. In some ways it’s good to have that kind of “hrumpf” when you’re employing the OMDB (over my dead body) method of food “storage”…in bear country.
Let’s hope that Liz’s arnica salve works for Paul. The stalk stuffed in my sock seemed to do the trick for my ankle. I was still a bit sore, but was able to walk the entire day.